Five Firsts: Johnny Salka of Hard Soul

Johnny Salka

NAME: Johnny Salka
INSTRUMENT: Guitar & vocals

1. THE FIRST ALBUM I EVER BOUGHT WAS … When I was in my early teens I was absolutely hooked on the Beatles. My dad bought me their “One” CD, which was a collection of all their number one hits, and I would lay in bed for hours with headphones on learning all the vocal harmonies and melodies. To this day, whenever I sing there is almost a reflex to sing the harmony rather than the melody vocal line. (Hard Soul does a pretty mean version of the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love.”) I credit a lot of my singing ability to those nights immersed in that collection of songs.

The first album I ever purchased for myself, however, was Metallica’s self-titled “Black Album.” My friends and I would get together and drive around our hometown listening to classic rock and guitar-oriented music, and “Enter Sandman” became a staple in our mix of tunes. It was one of the main reasons why I decided to pick up the guitar, strike those power chords and play that main riff over and over again. That was the start of my total immersion into heavy metal and the eventual formation of Amalgama from 2005-2011. However, I never lost my connection to those early influences which led me back even further to bands like Thin Lizzy that ended up flavoring what Hard Soul now is.

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2. THE FIRST CONCERT THAT I EVER SAW WAS … This is a bit embarrassing, but the first concert I ever attended was Weird Al Yankovic at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center in 1998 or ’99. At the time, I was really into absorbing as much music as possible; the radio was always on 92.7 WRRV the regional “alternative rock” station or 101.5 WPDH “The Home of Classic Rock n’ Roll”. Somehow, Weird Al made his way into the mix via a CD from a friend, and suddenly I found myself going to see him perform during the “Touring with Scissors” cycle. To this day, it was one of the loudest concerts I have ever been to in my life.

3. THE FIRST MUSICAL INSTRUMENT I EVER OWNED OR PLAYED WAS … If you were to take a poll of all males who decided to start playing guitar, I imagine 98% of them would say that women somehow factored into the equation. I, at 16 years old, was no different. A girl I knew from school who I had developed a massive crush on made a passing comment about how she thought it would be cool if I learned guitar. This became the final factor in deciding to take up the six-string and become a musician. So my mom and I drove out (I was 16 and still had the learners permit, how lame) to Alto Music in Middletown (near where I grew up) to buy my first guitar. After agonizing for what seemed like hours over all the different choices of guitars, I finally settled on a black Fender Mexican-made Stratocaster with a white pickguard. I kept that guitar for almost 10 years, but regrettably I traded it in about a year ago for some new gear. Hopefully, it made its way into the hands of some kid who’s looking to start learning to play himself.

4. THE FIRST SONG THAT I EVER PERFORMED IN PUBLIC WAS … “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. It was probably around 2002 or so that the band I was in during my teens (see below) finally decided to play our first gig at a talent show at Washingtonville High School. Despite having no prizes or placements at the end of the evening, they were very competitive events with all the favorite local bands performing, including Junket, Cujo and Children at Play (who cleverly went by CaP back then). So we lugged all our gear down to the high school that night as I sweated bullets in the music room behind the stage trying to remember all the words to a song I had probably sung 250 times in rehearsal. We went onstage and performed what could only be described as a lackluster version. However, the audience loved it (and so did I), and I haven’t looked back since.

5. THE FIRST BAND I WAS EVER IN WAS … The first band I was ever in was called Kanadia (pronounced like “canadian” if you dropped the N off the end). The rotating door of musicians was almost comical: we went through two guitar players, four drummers, one bass player and one lead vocalist during the existence of the band. The eventual line-up ended in a power-trio formation – minus the actual “power” part – consisting of Dave Wilson on drums, myself on bass guitar and vocals (bass players were hard to come by those days so I stepped up to the plate to fill out the group) and Steve Goldman on guitars.

Part of being in a band was recording a demo so you could get signed and become rockstars (how naive we were). So in 2003 we banged out a nine-song demo CD in Steve’s parents’ house where we rehearsed. Included on the demo were five original songs and four covers, two of them being Metallica songs, one being a Metallica version of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and Van Halen’s “You Really Got Me,” which coincidentally was their cover of the Kinks tune. There are still a few copies of that CD floating around out there, and I shudder to think of one of them resurfacing.

After we all went away to college in the fall of 2003, Kanadia broke up, and both Steve and I went on to form new bands – he with the Armageddon Monks and myself with Albany heavy metal heroes Amalgama. After that initial home demo recording session, Goldman caught the recording bug, and today he operates his own
studio Four Legs Records in Orange County, where he recorded, mixed and co-produced Hard Soul’s forthcoming debut EP due out early this year.

Johnny Salka and his bandmates in Hard Soul take the stage at The Linda in Albany at 7:30pm on Saturday, sharing the stage with Smittix and Skadee for the next installment of Ralph Renna’s Capital Underground Live concert series. Tix are $10 in advance; $12 at the door.

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One Response to “Five Firsts: Johnny Salka of Hard Soul”

  1. Helen says:

    What’s so embarrassing about seeing Weird Al as a first concert? He does an excellent live show, his band are serious musicians who play the music with respect, and he’s outlasted a lot of the acts he parodied.

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